Civil society data on safety of journalists neglected by UN member states

SDG target 16.10, public access to information, is an essential requirement towards achieving ‘effective, accountable and inclusive public institutions’ (SDG 16). Public access to information serves to build well-informed, critical and resilient citizens who are empowered to shape their own lives and to advocate for peaceful and justly governed societies. Independent, plural media and well-functioning access to information (ATI) laws enable people to have access to information. This is why Free Press Unlimited believes that public access to information is a prerequisite for meaningful progress and inclusive implementation of SDG 160 and the wider SDG Agenda.

However, the safe practice of journalism is a prerequisite for public access to information, which is a means to achieve the overarching goal of peaceful and inclusive societies. Journalists should be safe to perform their societal function to inform people. That is why states are encouraged to report on the safety of journalists and SDG indicator 16.10.1 (‘number of verified cases of killing, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, kidnapping and other harmful acts committed against journalists (…) on an annual basis’) in their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), to be presented at the High Level Political Forum (HLPF). The VNRs aim to track progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda and to facilitate the sharing of best practices. While statistics provided by national governments will form the foundation for assessing countries’ performance in relation to SDG 16.10.1, data provided by local civil society organisations (‘shadow reports‘) can be complementary to official statistics and serve to highlight discrepancies between datasets.

Yesterday Free Press Unlimited published five safety reports on the year 2020 that highlight quality civil society efforts to monitor infringements on the safety of journalists and public access to information. Even though the VNR procedure serves as a good opportunity to bring more attention to the safety of journalists, in practice many UN member states shy away from reporting on the safety of journalists and SDG 16.10.1. Few VNRs submitted this year by member states contained data on the safety of journalists and public access to information. In addition, quality data of shadow reports from civil society and their inputs are largely ignored by authorities. The monitoring organisations express concern over the lack of constructive engagement from their governments to ensure that their data are taken seriously. The reports are a call to action to improve the safety of journalists and access to information in their respective countries and for constructive dialogues with civil society to jointly achieve this.

Based on the reports and recommendations, Free Press Unlimited will produce a toolkit for states and civil society organisations on how to improve monitoring and reporting on journalist safety, including the cooperation needed with civil society to this end.

Free Press Unlimited worked with partners Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) in Pakistan, Independent Journalist Association (AJI) Indonesia and FLIP, the Foundation for Press Freedom in Colombia, to collect data on the safety situation of journalists in those countries. Free Press Unlimited worked with the International Press Institute (Austria) and the African Centre for Freedom of Information (Uganda) to produce trend reports on 5 countries in South Asia and 4 countries in Sub Sahara Africa.

Click here for the list of recommendations for the HLPF and the UN General Assembly, as well as the separate reports.